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Headaches are one of the most commonly experienced forms of pain. Everyone can relate to having a headache that distracts from work, interrupts family time or leaves you flat on your back in a dark room. In this series, we’re going to look at the various different types of  headaches (primary and secondary) and what you can do to help.

In this part of the series, we will discuss secondary headaches. A headache is secondary when it is caused by another condition. The key to distinguishing secondary headaches from primary headaches lies in the features of the headache, other symptoms occurring at the same time, and the physical examination. Some secondary headaches don’t play by the rules.

Sinus or Allergy headaches

Sinus and allergy headaches can be brought on by infection or allergic reactions. Usually accompanied by a fever and sinus pressure, or with an allergy headache—nasal congestion and watery eyes. The pain from these headaches is often focused in your sinus area and in the front of your head. To make matters worse, you will probably have to deal with a fair amount of mucus. Sinus headaches don’t play by the rules. In fact, when self-diagnosed, a sinus headache is commonly misdiagnosed. Up to 90% of the time, it’s actually a migraine.

What to do about them

  • Apply a warm, moist washcloth to your face several times a day.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to thin the mucus.
  • Inhale steam two to four times per day (sit in the bathroom with the shower running).
  • Spray the nose with nasal saline several times per day.
  • Use a neti pot to flush the sinuses.
  • Outdoors- Avoid going out when pollen counts and other triggers are present in high numbers
  • Indoors Reduce exposure to dust mites, especially in the bedroom. Use “mite-proof” covers for pillows, comforters and duvets, and mattresses and box springs.
  • Limit exposure to mold by keeping the humidity low in your home by using a dehumidifier in damp places.
  • Clean floors with a damp rag or mop, rather than dry-dusting or sweeping.


Menstrual Migraines

Menstrual migraines definitely don’t play fair. They are due to the hormonal changes in a woman’s menstrual cycle. Unfortunately, more than 70% of migraine sufferers are women. Over half of them get the most severe, debilitating migraines right before or during their cycle, or during ovulation because that’s when there is the most severe drop in estrogen levels. They are very common.

What to do about them


  • Magnesium- Once again, magnesium deficiency comes into play. Magnesium helps relax blood vessels that constrict during a migraine attack. Make sure you’re eating loads of dark green veggies, whole grains, beans, bananas, and seafood. Taking a daily magnesium supplement dose of 400 mg is highly recommended.
  • Avoid food triggers– Triggers can vary from person to person, but some well-known food triggers are chocolate, monosodium glutamate (MSG), processed meats with nitrates, dried fruits with sulfites, aged cheese, alcohol and red wine, and caffeine. It may be a good idea to keep a food journal leading up to your monthly cycle so you can spot some possible culprits before it’s too late.
  • Relax- Or, try to. Stress is a huge trigger for most women. Try to cut out some time for you to just be. Pray, read, listen to relaxing music, go for a jog…anything you want to do to de-stress and focus your energy on something that gives you life.
  • Talk to your doctor- If the pain is unbearable, and you are unable to function, CALL YOUR DOCTOR. Treating hormonal migraines can be tricky, and if you’re not getting relief, you need to seek medical help.


Exertion headaches

Experiencing a sudden burst of an excruciating headache during or after vigorous physical exertion is called exertion headache according to the International Headache Society. They are more common in men than women. The common thought is that intense physical activity such as weight lifting, running, or even sexual intercourse can cause increased blood flow to the skull which in turn can cause an intense, throbbing headache on both sides of the head. Fortunately, they don’t last too long. They usually go away within a few minutes to several hours. If you have never experienced an exertion headache, and one pops up out of the blue, you need to talk to your doctor as it could be due to an underlying issue that needs to be checked out.

What to do about them

  • Ginger- It’s a powerful anti-inflammatory. The gingerols in the ginger root help alleviate the pain making ginger an incredible tool in dealing with this type of headache. About half an hour before you exercise or start any strenuous activity, drink a glass of ginger tea.
  • Avoid exercising in hot or humid weather – Exertion headaches are more common in these conditions.
  • Warm-up before starting any intense or strenuous activity. You would be surprised at how much this lowers the chances of this type of headache.
  • Drink plenty of water! Staying hydrated is a must when exercising or doing any strenuous activity. If you’re dehydrated, chances are you will get a headache.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine.

It’s important to reiterate that secondary headaches are brought on by another underlying cause. If you experience any of these for the first time, or cannot get any relief from the pain, please talk to your doctor. When it comes to your head, the old adage of “better safe than sorry” rings true.